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Gas Prices Could Dip Below $3 by Year-End

October 21st, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Financial News

According to David Lutz of Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, consumers are going to get a big boost to their wallets before the end of the year — and the source could surprise you. According to Lutz, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is about to make some long-overdue adjustments to the federal ethanol mandate that’s been acting as a stealth tax on American drivers for years. The result could push the national average price for a gallon of gas lower than anything we’ve seen since the depths of the Great Recession.

First, a word on how we got here. As Lutz explained last summer, the 2005 Clean Air Act mandated that refiners blend ever rising amounts of ethanol into gasoline. As long as U.S. gas consumption was rising, meeting the ethanol blend requirement was arguably misguided but no more so than other economic policies with unintended consequences.

What neither the EPA nor anyone else saw coming was the drop in demand for gas. Were the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s website not down as part of the government shutdown, this link would show that gas demand hasn’t been this low in over a decade.

The vast majority — around 90% — of American cars don’t work with an ethanol blend over 10%. When the ethanol requirements continued to rise while demand for end product fell, the refiners were reduced to buying and selling Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), which are, in effect, credits that allow refiners to meet the terms of the 2005 Clean Air Act without producing fuel that is unsuitable for most cars.

So as demand for gas falls, refiners need to buy more RINs. From just pennies-per-gallon in January, RINs had soared over $1.40 by last summer. Lutz says as much as 75% of the additional cost was passed along to the consumer.

Therefore, in an attempt to force cleaner burning fuels into the marketplace, the EPA created a policy that ended up artificially inflating the cost of refining gas when demand fell. So the refiners and consumers got gouged for not burning enough fossil fuels. Only the government could make refinery companies look sympathetic.

Here’s the good part: Lutz sees the price of RINs falling, a sign that the EPA is finally getting around to modifying their absurd policy. Once RINs are out of the equation, Lutz says the price per gallon is going to fall lower.

“I’m not going to be stunned if we see gas prices going below $3 by the end of the year,” Lutz says. “That’s going to be a heck of a tailwind going into the holiday shopping season.”

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Women & Money Paralysis

October 21st, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Financial News

Not making a move may not be the best move to make.

shutterstock_95379265A decision not made may have financial consequences. There is an old belief that women are more cautious about money than men, and whether you believe that or not, both women and men may fall prey to a kind of money paralysis as they age – in which financial indecision is regarded as a form of “safety.”

Retirement seems to heighten this tendency. If you are single, retired, and female, you may be extremely fearful of drawing down your retirement savings too soon; or investing in a way that would mean any kind of risk.

This is understandable: if you are over 80, you likely have memories of the Great Depression, and baby boomers have memories of the severe economic downturn of the late 2000s.

“Paralysis by analysis,” or simple hesitation, may cost you in the long run. Your retirement may last much longer than you presume it will – perhaps 30 or 40 years – and maintaining your standard of living will undeniably take some growth investing. As much as you may want to stay out of stocks and funds, they offer you a chance to out-earn inflation – a chance you forfeit at your financial peril.

Even minor inflation can subtly reduce your purchasing power over time. Of all the risks to quality of life in retirement, this is often the least noticed. Doing nothing about it – or investing in a way that avoids all or nearly all risk – may put you at greater and greater financial disadvantage as your retirement proceeds.

Keeping a foot in the stock market – in whatever major or minor way you choose – allows your invested assets the potential to keep pace with or outpace inflation.

Retirement is the time to withdraw retirement assets. Some women (and men) are extremely reluctant to tap into their retirement nest eggs, even when the money has been set aside for years for a specific dream. Even though they have saved or dedicated, say, $20,000 for world travel, when retirement comes they may be skittish about actually using the money for that purpose. Buying a car to replace one that has been driven for 15 years, or remodeling part of the house to make it more livable after 70 or 80 may be viewed as extravagances.

We cannot control how long we will live, how much money we will need in the future, or how well the economy will perform next year or ten years on. There comes a point where you must live for today. Pinching pennies in retirement with the idea that the great bulk of your savings is for “someday” can weigh on your psyche. What does your retirement dream amount to if you don’t start living it once you retire?

If you fear outliving your money, remember that growth investing offers you the potential to generate a larger retirement fund for yourself. If you seek more retirement income, ask a financial professional about ways to arrange it – there are multiple ways to plan for it, and some that involve little risk to principal.

Don’t forget America’s built-in retirement insurance: Social Security. For every year you wait to claim Social Security benefits after your full retirement age (either 66 and 67 for most people) and age 70, your monthly payments grow by 8%. In contrast, if you start taking Social Security before your full retirement age, it will mean less SSI per month than if you had waited.1

The 4% rule may provide you with a guideline. For many years, some retirement planners have recommended that a retiree withdraw between 4-4.5% annually from savings. (This percentage is gradually adjusted north for inflation over the years.)2

The 4% rule is a worthwhile rule for many retirees, but it is hardly the only yardstick for retirement income withdrawals. At its Squared Away blog, the influential Center for Retirement Research at Boston College notes a study from one of its economists on this topic. It suggests an alternative – termed the RMD strategy – that mimics the Required Minimum Distributions the federal government requires from a traditional IRA after the original IRA owner enters his or her seventies. In this withdrawal strategy, you start withdrawing only 3.1% of your retirement assets at age 65, which climbs to 4.4% at 75 and then 6.8% by 85. (That is just withdrawal off of principal; interest and dividends can be added to that to give you more income.)2

Are you wondering just how much money to live on in retirement? Are you also wondering how your retirement savings and income may grow? Talk with a financial professional about your options – you may have many more than you initially assume. A practical outlook on investing and decisions to work longer or claim Social Security later can also potentially help you amass or receive more money for the years ahead.

This material was prepared by MarketingLibrary.Net Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.
1 – forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2013/08/22/5-cures-for-womens-retirement-spending-paralysis/ [8/22/13]
2 – squaredawayblog.bc.edu/squared-away/retiree-paralysis-can-i-spend-my-money/ [7/11/13]

October – Monthly Economic Update

October 21st, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Monthly Economic Update

Weekly Economic Update

Eat These and You May Live Longer

October 21st, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

470_2702865A group of international scientists has located a possible fountain of youth, and it’s in our kitchens. A new study in the Journal of Nutrition reports that older adults who consume higher amounts of polyphenols have a 30 percent chance of living longer. Polyphenols are micronutrients found mainly in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, grains, coffee, and tea. Evidence suggests polyphenols have a role in preventing cancer, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, osteoporosis, and other degenerative diseases.

Related: Great-Tasting Antioxidant Treats

 The 12-year study, which involved more than 800 participants, is the first to use a specific biomarker (in this case, urine analysis) to measure polyphenol levels, instead of relying on questionnaires. “The results corroborate scientific evidence suggesting that people consuming diets rich in fruit and vegetables are at lower risk of several chronic diseases and overall mortality,” lead author Raúl Zamora Ros, PhD, of the University of Barcelona, said in a statement. “This methodology makes a more reliable and accurate evaluation of the association between food intake and mortality or disease risk,” added colleague Cristina Andrés Lacueva, PhD.

 More on Yahoo: Longest-Living Bat Holds Clues to Longevity

A polyphenol-rich diet includes at least 650 milligrams a day. Below is a list of 20 commonly available foods that are among the 100 richest dietary sources of polyphenols (polyphenol content listed as mg/100 g serving):

  • Cocoa powder (3448 mg)
  • Dark chocolate (1766 mg)
  • Black olives (569 mg)
  • Green olives (346 mg)
  • Hazelnuts (495 mg)
  • Pecans (493 mg)
  • Soy flour (466 mg)
  • Plums (377 mg)
  • Cherries (274 mg)
  • Artichokes (260 mg)
  • Blackberries (260 mg)
  • Strawberries (235 mg)
  • Red raspberries (215 mg)
  • Red chicory/radicchio (235 mg)
  • Whole-wheat flour (201 mg)
  • Almonds (187 mg)
  • Black grapes (169 mg)
  • Red onion (168 mg)
  • Apple (136 mg)
  • Spinach (119 mg)

 Don’t stick to just the top-listed foods, though. “Any plant-based foods are good in their whole form,” Angela Lemond, RDN and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells Yahoo Shine. In general, polyphenol-rich foods are bright-or dark-colored and have a strong or astringent flavor. She recommends adding fruits and vegetables to breakfast and lunch, since most people focus on their dinner menus. Another trick is to slip vegetables into sandwiches and pack a colorful salad for lunch. She also says, “Branch out from your favorites and experiment with seasonal produce.” The orange and red foods that are now hitting markets and farm stands are great sources of polyphenols. For kids, Lemond suggests cutting fruits and vegetables into snack sizes and storing them at eye level in the refrigerator.

Polyphenols are found in thousands of combinations in hundreds of different foods, and for maximum benefit, its helpful to eat a variety over the course of the day to keep blood levels high. Consume produce when it’s fresh, because the beneficial compounds deteriorate with age. “There is also some destruction with heat,” says Lemond. Cooking, especially deep-frying and boiling, can destroy them, but steaming retains the highest degree. Because some nutrients are released by cooking, she generally recommends eating a mixture of raw and cooked food. Processing foods can destroy the healthy compounds, so choose whole grains that are minimally processed. Also, leave skins on fruits and vegetables for maximum benefit.

Spices and herbs such as cloves, rosemary, oregano, and many others are superrich in polyphenols, so season your meals liberally. Beverages contain polyphenols too, especially coffee, green and black tea, red wine, and beer. Dark juices and citrus juices are good choices, but to keep calories in check, avoid high levels of added sugar.

To learn more, Phenol-Explorer is an open-access database that lists values for over 500 different polyphenols found in more than 400 foods. It also includes information on the effects of processing and cooking on nutrient retention.

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9 Books Scarier Than Any Horror Movie

October 21st, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

There is nothing better than a good ghost story.

It might be tempting to pop in one of your scarier movies when you want to get into the Halloween spirit, but there are plenty of novels sure to keep you up for just as many nights.

Just be careful if you read these titles in a public place. You might mistake the woman who just wants your extra chair as your book’s monster. And no one wants to go viral as “shrieking girl in Starbucks.”

1. The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

The-replacement

What if you were the thing your neighbors whispered about, the dark shadow that everyone felt but no one acknowledged? The Replacements takes place in a town where every once in a while, a baby will be taken and replaced by a not-quite-right double that dies soon after the switch is made. The entire story is told from the perspective of one of the replacements that has mysteriously lived into his teens.

Image: Penguin Publishing

2. Horns By Joe Hill

Horns

Pick up this novel written by Stephen King’s oldest son before the movie comes out, and you can only picture Daniel Radcliffe as the newly horned, deeply troubled protagonist Ig. It’s proof that the scariest creatures in fiction are not ghosts or vampires, they are characters so twisted by grief and rage they’ve become unrecognizable.

Image: Harper Collins

3. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

The-unbecoming-of-mara-dyer

When people talk about what kind of superpowers they’d like to have, the most common are typically flight, invisibility and mind reading. Mara Dyer has the power of her fear and her anger, and it’s not until she walks into a room of live-caged bugs and walks out of a room of dead ones that she understands just how powerful she is.

Image: Simon and Schuster

4. Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Handling-the-undead

Readers today are never at a loss for new zombie books, and any story about society crumbling under the weight of the brain-eating undead is bound to be terrifying. What makes Handling the Undead particularly spine-tingling is the window of hope for the characters that their undead loved ones might mean them no harm.

Image: Macmillan Publishers

5. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

The-coldest-girl-in-coldtown

The best thrillers tap into a specific (and realistic) fear. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown opens in the aftermath of a typical party. But when the young heroine wakes up, instead of finding drunk people, she’s surrounded by dead people. And it only gets creepier from there.

Image: Hachette Book Group

6. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The-haunting-of-hill-house

What’s truly creepy about this Shirley Jackson classic are all the unanswered questions left with the reader. At the end of most thrillers, you at least know what to be irrationally afraid of. With this novel, you won’t know if you should be wary of the haunted house on the corner or the mysterious woman who lives next-door.

Image: Penguin Publishing

7. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Anna-dressed-in-blood

Cas has been killing ghosts for as long as he could handle his late father’s ghost-slashing knife. It’s a lonely life, but one that he fully accepted until coming face to face with Anna, the murderous ghost of a dead teen who wants to leave but can’t. Anna doesn’t want to kill but must, and she terrifies Cas — not because of her black eyes or blood-soaked dress, but because she makes him hesitate.

Image: Macmillan Publishers

8. The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson

The-amityville-horror

This is the original Paranormal Activity, and definitely not a book to pick up before you move to a new house, or come anywhere near one. It can also provide a fun after-dinner game: How many terrifying noises, smells, or sounds does it take for you to move out?

Image: Simon and Schuster

9. Miss Pergrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs

Miss-pergrines-home-for-peculiar-children

This novel has the makings of any great horror flick: an abandoned orphanage, haunting children (Because the first rule of effective horror trailer-making is to include a small child’s eerie rendition of nursery rhymes.), and a horrible tragedy. If you doubt your ability to fill in the creepy pieces with your own imagination, the included spooky vintage photographs are guaranteed to haunt your dreams.

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Salsa Tops Ketchup? Changing Demographics Influence Taste Buds

October 21st, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

SalsaSalsa overtaking ketchup as America’s No. 1 condiment? That’s just the start of how changing demographics are influencing our taste buds.

These days, tortillas outsell burger and hot dog buns; sales of tortilla chips trump potato chips; and tacos and burritos have become so ubiquitously “American,” most people don’t even consider them ethnic.

Welcome to the taste of American food in 2013.

As immigrant and minority populations rewrite American demographics, the nation’s collective menu is reflecting this flux, as it always has. And it goes beyond the mainstreaming of once-esoteric ethnic ingredients, something we’ve seen with everything from soy sauce to jalapenos, according to The Associated Press.

This is a rewrite of the American menu at the macro level, an evolution of whole patterns of how people eat. The difference this time? The biggest culinary voting bloc is Hispanic.

“When you think about pizza and spaghetti, it’s the same thing,” says Jim Kabbani, CEO of the Tortilla Industry Association. “People consider them American, not ethnic. It’s the same with tortillas.”

With Hispanics making up more than a quarter of the U.S. population today – and growing fast – experts say this change is dramatically flavoring the American culinary experience. Hispanic foods and beverages were an $8 billion market in the last year, according to consumer research firm Packaged Facts. By 2017, that number may reach $11 billion.

And that’s influencing how all Americans eat. Doritos, after all, are just tarted-up tortilla chips.

As the entire menu of the American diet gets rewritten, the taste is getting spicier, with salsa and chipotle popping into the mainstream vernacular. And onto your dinner table: Marie Callender’s has grilled shrimp street tacos with chipotle ranch dressing; Whataburger has a fire-roasted blend of poblano peppers in its chicken fajita taco; and there’s tomatillo verde salsa in the baja shrimp stuffed quesadilla from El Pollo Loco.

From queso fresco to chorizo, traditional Hispanic foods – or even just the flavors of them – are making their way into our everyday diet, particularly among the millennials – those born between the early `80s and the turn of the century. Generation Y’s Hispanic community was born into an American culture but still holds onto its traditions, often eating white rice and seamlessly switching between English and Spanish.

“They are looking for products that are not necessarily big brands anymore,” says Michael Bellas, chairman of the Beverage Marketing Corporation. “They like brands that have character. They are looking for authenticity and purity, but they are also looking for new experiences.”

For example, popular among the millennials and other generations on the West Coast is the Mexican soda Jarritos, which boasts real fruit flavors ranging from mango to guava. The company’s site showcases a collage of photos taken by Generation Y soda drinkers. Brightly colored sodas pop through their clear vintage-looking bottles. And the bottle caps share a simple message: “Que buenos son,” or “They’re so good.”

Another Hispanic beverage making ever more rounds in households across America is tequila.

In 2006, nearly 107 million of liters of tequila were exported to the U.S., a 23 percent increase over 2005, according to Judith Meza, representative of the Tequila Regulatory Council. Tequila entered the top 10 of liquors in the world five years ago, she said.

Even our choice of side dishes is feeling the influence. In general, Americans are eating fewer of them. Except white rice, a staple of Hispanic cuisines, says Darren Seifer, a food and beverage analyst for The NPD Group, a consumer marketing organization.

Americans ate rice on its own as a side dish (not counting as an ingredient in another dish) an average of 24 times in 2013, up from 20 servings in 2003, according to NPD’s National Eating Trend.

Why has rice resisted the death of the side dish? It’s one of the traditions millennial Hispanics have held onto, says Seifer.

And that’s just the start. Rice also was the top-rated side dish in a National Restaurant Association chefs survey of what’s hot. The same survey also found chefs touting taquitos as appetizers; ethnic-inspired breakfast items such as chorizo scrambled eggs; exotic fruits including guava; queso fresco as an ingredient; and Peruvian cuisine.

The influence goes deeper than the numbers. Like Italian food before it, Hispanic food enjoys broad adoption because it is easy for Americans to cook at home. Few Americans will roll their own sushi, but plenty are happy to slap together a quesadilla. Hispanic ingredients also are more common than those of Indian or other Asian cuisines. Ditto for the equipment. While nearly every American home has a skillet for sauteing (a common cooking method in Hispanic cuisines), only 28 percent of homes have a wok, according to NPD.

All of this has meant a near complete loss of ethnicity for many Hispanic foods. Americans now more closely associate tacos, tortilla chips and burritos with fast food than with Hispanic culture.

“The Hispanic market isn’t the only one driving that taste profile,” says Tom Dempsey, CEO of the Snack Food Association. “As manufacturers become more innovative on how to use tortilla chips, that will continue to take a larger share of the snack marketplace.”

Tortilla dollar sales increased at a faster pace in supermarket sales than potato chips this year (3.7 percent vs. 2.2 percent over a 52-week period), according to InfoScan Reviews, a retail tracking service.

Though potato chips continue to be the top-selling salted snack in terms of pounds sold, “the growth of tortilla chips is a little bit more robust than the growth of potato chips,” Dempsey says. “And both tortilla chips and potato chips are reflecting greater influence from the Hispanic taste profile than in previous years.”

Which is to say, even all-American potato chips are increasingly being flavored with traditionally Hispanic ingredients. Care for Lay’s “Chile Limon” chips? How about some “Queso Flavored” Ruffles? Maybe some Pringles Jalapeno? And of course there’s the old standard – Nacho Cheese Doritos.

As testament to their popularity, the Tortilla Industry Association estimates that Americans consumed approximately 85 billion tortillas in 2000. And that’s just tortillas straight up. It doesn’t include chips.

“Having been raised on Wonder bread,” Kabbani, the group’s CEO, reminisced of his childhood days, “I didn’t think that this could displace the sliced bread that was such an item of the American kitchen.” But parents are picking healthier options to wrap their child’s lunch every day, he said.

“When it comes to health, the Mexican cuisines cater better to that with salsas and vegetables,” says Alexandra Aguirre Rodriguez, an assistant professor of marketing at Florida International University.

A healthier option many Americans are choosing is the tomato-based salsa, which beat ketchup sales 2-1, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm.

This isn’t simply a matter of Hispanics buying more of their traditional foods.

At the grocer, Hispanic ingredients have moved well beyond the international aisle, sometimes commandeering entire aisles of their own or, increasingly, mingling freely with the rest of the products. Tortillas and taco kits outsell hamburgers and hot dog buns, according to the latest edition of Hispanic Foods and Beverages in the U.S.

Packaged food is also playing a major role.

“If I would look at 10 shopping carts, about half would have taco shells, the Americanized components to make enchiladas or tacos, or frozen chimichangas,” says Terry Soto, president and CEO of About Marketing Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in the Hispanic market. There are more non-Hispanics buying those types of foods, she says.

“There is a larger segment of the population that wants the real thing. It’s not so much the products becoming mainstream. It’s about ethnic food becoming that much more of what we eat on a day-to-day basis.”

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How I Got My Stolen Laptop Back Within 24 Hours Using Prey

October 21st, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

originalLast weekend, my briefcase was stolen out of our vehicle while it was parked outside of a Bed & Breakfast. In the bag was my MacBook and all of my documents for work. Apparently while I was moving all of our stuff into the house, someone grabbed the bag and ran before I came back.

Because nothing else was stolen or moved around, we didn’t even notice it was missing until the following morning. After searching around frantically, it was clear the bag was gone. Elyse suggested we file a police report, so we called the RCMP. (I was pretty skeptical of them finding anything, but we filed it anyway, which later turned out to be essential.)

Needless to say, I was pretty upset that everything was gone.

After driving for a while to our next destination thinking the laptop was long gone, I sort of remembered downloading a tracking program a while back after hearing about Sean Power recovering his laptop after it was stolen.

ku-xlargeI logged in using on my iPhone, and reported the device as missing using the software Prey. Unbelievably, within 10 minutes, I began getting emails sent to me that looked like the image below. (I blurred the images, as I am not sure about the legality of it all.)

Every 20 minutes, Prey would send me a photo of the guy who stole my laptop, his location, and a screenshot of the websites that he was looking at. The photos also gave a lot of clues about what the house looked like, which was important as well.

We immediately called the police dispatch, and within a few hours of us reporting everything missing, I was able to give all of the information verbally over the phone to the policewoman. (As an aside, throughout the entire process, the police were 100% responsive and ready for action. The constable we were working with never even saw the data, she just went off of what I said. It was pretty impressive to see. I also found it humorous that they were completely mind-boggled that you could track someone in this way.

Anyways, the police went to the location that Prey said the device was located, but the house was deserted and no one answered. Because they didn’t have a warrant, they were not able to enter the house.

The email updates had stopped coming, meaning the thief wasn’t using my laptop anymore, so we couldn’t track it. We resumed our vacation (wine tasting in Naramata, great for stress relief) and waited for the emails to start coming in again.

How I Got My Stolen Laptop Back Within 24 Hours Using PreyThe next night, he started using the computer. Because he was logged into Facebook, I could see what his name was, his age, and his school through the screenshot. As you can see below, he was even bragging to his friends about buying a 17″ laptop for “$2250” and saying that he “bought it”.

Getting his name was key, because the police were then able to get the full address of where he lived, and closed in fast. Turned out Prey had the location a bit wrong, so getting his name was key. At this point, the police felt that they had enough information to confront the thieves, and made their move.

It was pretty funny to witness, because after I hung up with the police as they were about to make their move, I received this screenshot.

How I Got My Stolen Laptop Back Within 24 Hours Using PreyNote how no one was there anymore? That’s because the police were questioning him.

Both kids made a full confession immediately, and brought up everything that they nabbed. Amazingly, they had got a lot more than I originally thought. In addition to my laptop, I forgot that my camera and iPod were in the bag (yikes) and our GPS unit as well, but they returned everything.

I made the drive back to Kelowna and recovered everything from the policewoman. I was pretty amazed. Everything was in great condition and running fine.

So a big thanks to the Kelowna RCMP and to Prey, which I highly recommend downloading. It is free to use, easy to set up, and, as you can tell, works pretty well.

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Candy Crush Saga Has Women Spending Big Bucks

October 21st, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Videos

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